Case study: 'Being gay is only a small part of my life'

28th May 2004 at 01:00
"Shut up, faggot." "Did he take you up the arse?" "Poof." "Gayboy."

"Batty." Would you expect this abuse? Every day? Welcome to the world of a gay teacher.

I've never come out to my students, but I am a little camp in my mannerisms and speech. It's this they latched on to, I think. My colleagues all know; they probably guessed, and sometimes it comes up in conversation. There is no awkwardness.

Being gay (I hate using that word; I hate labelling people) is only a small part of my life. I pay tax, national insurance, go shopping and do the best I can for all students. I have a mixed group of friends, I go to bars and restaurants and, within my circle of friends and colleagues, I don't hide who I am. They don't ask me if I am gay and I don't ask them if they are heterosexual. But having this abuse thrown at you - mainly by boys; girls seem more accepting - gets to you. I do not put up with it from anyone in my personal life so why should I have to at work?

I worked in industry before becoming a teacher and never faced anything like this. If any other employee had spoken to me in such a way, he or she would have been instantly dismissed. But I did once lose a bar job for refusing to serve a customer who had assaulted me (the incident was reported to the police, who refused to act) while I was working. I decided then I would not tolerate homophobic abuse again.

When it started in school, there were two choices: resign or fight back. I chose to fight back because I enjoy my job. I am not going to let bigots and homophobes make me quit; although had it not been for support from others, including the TES online forum, I probably would have resigned. One day I said, 'Enough is enough, I am not going to be afraid. If I am labelled a troublemaker, then so be it. Someone has to make a stand.' What I didn't want to do was to make everything a sexuality issue, so unless pupils abused me to my face I did nothing, as I felt that they were cowards.

My main problem was with my senior leadership team. I always had the support of staff, but until I threatened to bring in my regional union rep, they did nothing, and then I think they only acted to save themselves from having to answer awkward questions. Several students had launched a particularly nasty campaign of abuse, so much so that I had to ask that they be kept out of the room on numerous occasions. My repeated requests were ignored, and after I complained that nothing was being done, I was told to keep quiet. My union told me that I could, if I wanted, ask for permanent exclusion. It was then that senior managers intervened: the students were told that if there were any more incidents, the school would exclude them.

I realise these students learn this kind of behaviour at home. I am determined to show them that society is made up of all sorts of people and that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of race, colour, religious belief, gender or sexuality. But I also blame members of the gay community who lead separate lives and in some ways have a much narrower outlook than those who abuse us. In my life I rarely use the term gay or straight. I accept people for who they are, irrespective of background. As a teacher, I believe it's part of my job to give students the information they need to decide their views. All I want is to be treated equally as a person and teacher who does his best in all areas of his life.

I know that when I go on to a new school, I will probably get abuse at the start, but I know that the abusers don't actually know me and that it is solely my position they attack. Should it happen, I will take appropriate steps.

The writer teaches in London. He wants to remain anonymous

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